Apps against climate change

How mobile phones can be used to fight environmental destruction.


Today, over 4 billion people have mobile phones. Even the developing world had internet phone coverage of about 54% by 2013. In India, more people have mobile phones than they have access to toilets. With 7.86 billion mobile phones in use worldwide, over 43% of users access the mobile web and can retrieve news and information.

Newer models of phones record and transmit sounds, images, locations, and motion data in real time, making them the biggest platform of communication and dissemination of all kinds of information. The ease of communication enables groups of people to mobilize and engage like never before. In fact, the multi-media enabled cameras, GPS capabilities and Internet access on mobile phones can also transform scientific data collection without the need for the high bandwidth, rich sensor capabilities, or local processing infrastructure that had previously been barriers in developing regions.

This means mobile phones have changed the way we interact with the world and the impact is felt by all. Developers and scientists have gone a long way in ensuring that we can use our phones for more than just calls and chats. Mobile phone technology has made a powerful impact politically, socially, economically and environmentally. While the environmental aspect hasn’t caught on as strongly yet, mobile phones are slowly helping to expand environmental awareness, reduce inefficiencies, find solutions and turn everyone into an eco-warrior.

Mobile phones provide a perfect platform for environmental campaigns. A good example is how in China, a large group of protestors used their cell phones to send an avalanche of texts to the Xiamen government about the health risks of a new petrochemical plant which would produce paraxylene, a highly toxic carcinogen and the mayor had to put the plant on hold.

Today, bolder action is being taken. Many developers and scientists are creating more engaging ways of fighting climate change using mobile phones.

Saving energy is key to reducing the carbon foot print. In response to this, software developers have created mobile phone applications that can manage the use of energy at your home by a mere touch of your phone screen. Apps like Wiser EMS, energy tracker and thermostats, energy management software make conducting energy audits, tracking energy consumption and making energy efficient changes easy.

Saving fuel is also much easier with phone applications. Apps like EcoSpeed gives users tips to help you save fuel like maintaining a certain speed or easing acceleration. GreenMeter will give you information on your fuel consumption, cost and carbon footprint based on the make and model of your car, weather conditions and fuel type.

Mobile phones have also been used to develop tools that solve water waste and supply issues by collecting data from the mobile phone users like EverDropLA. In fact, in India farmers are now use mobile phones to operate irrigation systems. Instead of walking several miles to water pumps, the farmers can now remotely switch the water pumps on and off on their phones by merely dialling an assigned code number connected to a mobile modem, thereby ensuring more efficient water use.

The University of Southern California’s Robotic Embedded Lab in 2004 created the Visibility app for android phones which uses your phone camera to measure air pollution. All the user does is take a photo of the sky which is then sent to a central computer that compares the luminance values of the sky to algorithmic models for the time and coordinates of the photo. Users receive a message detailing pollution levels in that area and scientists use this information to collect data on local air pollution.

The protection of nature is also catered for. Forests can now be protected by deploying bar code technology to forest companies where a bar code is stamped on a tree and then scanned with mobile phones and uploaded to a database. Any tree that arrives at a mill without a tracked bar code is considered illegal.

Mobile phone cameras which are a power tool for observation can be used to immediately record and share information with experts to feed the scientific community with information. For example the Project Noah app lets you take pictures of plants and animals you find when you’re out in nature and then upload them to a central database where they will be analyzed for research. This could enable the discovery of new species or new information on a known species. This information is especially useful in protecting habitats and species.

The Save the Elephants application enables individuals and organizations to use their phones to quickly communicate the locations of GPS-collared African elephants to farmers so that they can do what they can to avoid negative effects to their farms and ugly confrontations between themselves and the animals. In Democratic Republic of Congo, Okapi Wildlife Reserve project uses mobile phones to detect any threats so that quick action can be taken to stop the problem.

Shopping is no exception to eco-friendliness. There are apps that inform you on what the most sustainable product to buy is and where to purchase it, like the buycott or cruelty free apps. Further, the GiftRocket app lets you purchase and redeem gift cards through your phone, avoiding the exchange and inevitable tossing of pieces of plastic into landfills.

This is just the beginning. A multitude of new developments, for instance through the Esri challenges are still ongoing with the aim of finding new and more effective ways to use our phones to reduce our carbon foot prints. As the threat of climate change becomes more and more eminent, the future will dictate increased participation in the fight against environmental destruction. For now, there’s a mound of ways mobile phones are helping to fight climate change and because you have a smart phone, now is the right time to get involved.


Agodo Shabella Patience

Agodo Shabella Patience is a Ugandan Lawyer with keen interest on the Environment and Climate change. She is the founder and Executive Director of Green Teso Initiative a climate change Advocacy NGO based in Eastern Uganda.
3 Comments on this post.
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    Zane Anıs
    30 June 2016 at 6:45 pm
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    10 July 2016 at 2:23 am
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    I’ll right away grab your rss feed as I can not find your email subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.
    Do you’ve any? Kindly permit me recognise in order that I may just subscribe.

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    Rachel Gunther
    26 March 2018 at 7:46 pm
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    hello – i love the image on this – any way we could use it for our youth climate change curriculum we are sharing with the world? [email protected] if that would work. thanks

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